Thursday, 31 October 2013

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Antrim Lough Shore Park, Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland

Whooper swan 15 flew over
Golden plover 30 flew over
Hooded crow 5
Lots of woodland birds including Jay, Goldcrest and Treecreeper.

Lough Neagh has over 1000 wintering Whooper swans, so it was nice to see at least some of them on this brief visit.

There was a flock of about 50 Black-headed gulls coming to bread near one of the car parks, and I noticed that one of them had a white ring on its right leg T35J. I took a photo so that I wouldn't forget it, and then found another three gulls in the same flock with red rings, though these were all on the left legs. There's an interesting blog about Black-headed gull ringing in Northern Ireland, which seems to be based around Antrim and Lough Neagh. It turns out that the birds with red rings had all (unsurprisingly) been ringed locally by the author of the blog, but the white ringed bird had a much more interesting story (see below).

Whooper swans.

T35J was originally ringed as a chick at Kretuonas in Lithuania in June 2006, an amazing 2064km from Lough Neagh. In 2011 it was recaught at Gdyna in Poland when it was re-ringed and fitted with the colour ring T35J.  It's back for at least its second winter at Lough Neagh, though it's not entirely certain where it breeds.

I'd forgotten that they got Hooded crows in Northern Ireland, so I was a bit surprised to see this bird. Hoodies were far outnumbered by Rooks and Jackdaws though.

Lough Neagh. This is the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles and is 20 miles long at it's longest point, and covers an area of over 151 square miles.

This is the torpedo platform on Lough Neagh. Built in 1942 in order to test torpedoes for World War II, it's now home to a Common tern colony in the summer.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Pure quality in North Wales

Hoopoe 1 Rhyl
Grey Phalarope 1 Gronant
Surf Scoter 2-3 (2 males & possible female) Llanddulas
Common Scoter lots Llanddulas
Velvet Scoter 1 Llanddulas
Red-throated Diver 2 Llanddulas

Year 247 (Grey Phalarope, Hoopoe)

Wow, what a day of quality birds. I started out at Gronant to see the fabulous Grey phalarope which has been there since Thursday. It performed brilliantly, spinning and twirling exactly as it was meant to. Phalaropes are always great birds.

Next I moved on to Llysfaen Station Road at Llanddulas to have a look at the scoter flock. As usual they were distant, but thanks to a little help from my friends, I didn't have to wait long to pick out not one but two and possibly three Surf scoter! The bright sunlight lit up the water and picked out the white on the Surf scoters heads really well, almost making them look large headed, and they were unmistakeable, my best views ever of Surf Scoter. The two males chased each other around and were even seen briefly displaying, and since they were constantly accompanied by a female scoter, it seems logical to think that she was also a Surf. It really was great experience, I watched them for well over an hour, until the arrival of some other birders set me off on the road again, because they brought with them news of a Hoopoe at Rhyl......

I don't know how I found the place, but find it I did with relative ease. A cycle track next to the river on the edge of town. I had no map with me and I didn't really understand the directions, but I noticed a road called Marsh Road near the centre of Rhyl and took a chance and by a miracle went straight to the correct car park and immediately saw a group of birders on the bank. It took about half an hour for the Hoopoe to show, but when it did it showed well, both on the ground and in flight, when it looked like a gigantic butterfly. Only my 5th Hoopoe in Britain, and perhaps surprisingly all have been in the north west. I've still never seen an east coast or a south coast Hoopoe.

I don't know how it would be possible to have a better day than that....

Little and large!

Video of the Phalarope.


Whilst visiting other local sites in search of better Hoopoe photos than mine, I came across this photo on Zac Hinchcliffes blog of me in action, watching the Hoopoe! I wonder why he took a photo of me...

Friday, 25 October 2013

Thursday, 24 October 2013

One Swallow......

One Swallow doesn't make a summer they say, but what about one Swallow, egg laying dragonflies and three species of butterfly? Sounds a bit like summer to me. I had a Phase 1 Habitat survey to do in Lincolnshire today, and the weather was glorious, sunshine, nice blue skies, no wind and nice and warm. The coat and waterproof trousers were given a day off today!

The first surprise of the day was a Swallow, sitting as bold as brass on a telegraph wire, in the middle of an arable field. It was a juvenile, apparently completely unmoved by the fact that it now goes down into the history books as my latest ever Swallow in the UK! Cocky little blighter....

With work completed for the day, and back in civvies, I moved on to  a nearby (inland) nature reserve. It was ok for birds, with a couple of Black-necked grebes, some Pochard and a few Tufted duck, but it was much more interesting for invertebrates, and I was pleased to find a Clouded Yellow butterfly on a patch of short grassland.  Clouded Yellows are a migrant species in Britain,  and this individual has presumably been blown here on the recent southerly winds. It's only my 8th ever record of the species in the UK, with the last being as long ago as 2003. It's generally a late summer / early autumn migrant, most numerous on the coast, though I did see one on Reed's Moss near the Bottle and Glass in St Helens a few years back. Todays individual seems to me to be a very late record, especially for an inland site.  I find it slightly ironic that having left the migration hotspot of Gibraltar Point behind and moved inland, I should then find two of the best migrants of the week! Other butterflies today included a Comma and several Peacocks.

Around the pools, there were plenty of dragonflies, mainly all Common Darters, and it was pleasing to see several pairs ovipositing. Also today, a few Migrant Hawkers.

I said that Clouded Yellow is a migrant species, but it's not a migrant like we would call a bird a migrant. Birds migrate between their breeding and wintering grounds several times during their lifetime. When a Little stint leaves Africa to fly to the Arctic to breed, it migrates through the UK, and the same individual is programmed to return before the Arctic winter. It's also programmed to take the same route to and from the Arctic every year. In contrast, this Clouded Yellow will never return to its birth place in southern Europe, for one thing it won't live long enough, and even if it lays eggs here, the species cannot currently survive the winter in the UK in any stage of its life cycle. So it would appear to be a pointless and wasted journey. Furthermore, when it set out on its journey, it was programmed to disperse, to leave its home, but not necessarily to end up in Britain, so clearly what ever is going on, it's not the same as the stints migration.

Well then, call it a vagrant you might say. But no, it's not a vagrant either. A vagrant is a Grey-cheeked thrush on Shetland. When the thrush set off on its journey, it was programmed to migrate south in North America, but something went wrong, most likely it got caught up in a weather system and it ended up somewhere it didn't want to be, on the wrong side of the Atlantic. From a species point of view, that individual might as well be dead, because it will never breed and offers nothing more to the Grey-cheeked thrush gene pool. Superficially that might seem to be the same outcome as my Clouded Yellow, but it's not, it's very different.

Yes the Clouded Yellow I saw today is going to die soon, but from the species point of view, the butterfly didn't get here accidentally like the thrush, rather it was a species programmed dispersal. This type of dispersal serves an important function. If the species keeps dispersing in this way, eventually the climate will change, and the species will be able to breed in new areas and expand its range, making this species more robust to climate change than other more static species. So it's not a migrant or a vagrant as we know it in bird terms. Perhaps I should have called it an opportunistic dispersing butterfly.....

Ovipositing (egg laying) Common darters. Contrary to what you might think, these dragonflies are not mating, and nor are they about to mate. In fact they've already mated. This is called flying in tandem or guarded oviposition. The male grasps the back of the females head, while she dips her ovipositor into the water to lay the eggs.  Even though she already has his sperm, the eggs aren't fertilised until the female starts to lay the eggs. If another male mates with her before oviposition, it will be his sperm which fertilises the eggs. Therefore in these photos the male is guarding the female, or more specifically he's guarding his sperm.

Hang on a minute, I though it was nearly winter.........

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Gibraltar Point

Lapland bunting 1 flew over Millennium Ridge calling
Shore lark 2 at the end of Millennium Ridge
Swallow 4 heading south along Millennium Ridge
Skylark 100 heading south along Millennium Ridge
White wagtail 1 heading south along Millennium Ridge
Goldfinch 100 heading south along Millennium Ridge
Meadow pipit 100 heading south along Millennium Ridge
Eider 3 males Millennium Ridge
Gannet 3 juveniles
Sandwich tern 1
Spotted redshank 1
Grey plover 500
Sanderling 500

Year 245 (Lapland bunting)

I love this place, it's so exciting. What an experience, to see small flocks of migrating passerines flying south along the ridge, into the face of a moderately strong southerly wind, and then heading out to sea. And there are just thousands of waders and wildfowl, dotted over the mud at low tide, a wonderful spectacle!

Shore lark

Name that bird.....

It's a Sanderling!

It was day of fantastic skies on Millennium Ridge. The great thing about the sky is that it makes for a constantly changing picture. Here on Millennium Ridge the views are all about vast open spaces of sea, saltmarsh and sand, which is which is simply awe inspiring when you're actually there, but doesn't always come over well in a photo. But these skies bring the photos to life, giving them depth and a sense of scale.

At least 50 Common Darters and 5 Migrant Hawkers today.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Gibraltar Point

Shore lark 2
Little stint 1
Swallow 2
Jack snipe 1
Hen harrier 1 ringtail
Merlin 1
Spotted redshank 1
Greenshank 1
Grey plover 500
Sanderling 500
Knot 500
Dunlin 3000
Curlew 500

Year 244 (Shore lark)

I was delighted to find two Shore larks at the end of Millennium Ridge today, showing really well on the mussel beds. In the same area a Little stint. It was just a great day to be out on the saltmarsh, with thousands of waders on show, and decent flypasts of hunting Hen harrier and Merlin, the latter chasing a Snipe. The Swallows were just one day short of being my latest ever in the UK.

It was particularly pleasing to find the Shore lark, because they bring my total for the year to 244, which equals my previous best ever year, and still with over two months to go, and still lacking one or two relatively easy ticks which I could, with luck, pick up between now and the end of the year.

Shore lark. Honest.... At least it has a distinctive face pattern!

Little stint. Or is it????

The mussel beds at the end of Millennium Ridge.

Gib Point bird observatory and the Heligoland trap.

Millennium Ridge.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire

I had an early morning walk around Gibraltar Point today, hoping to find a migrant or two, but it was tough going, with strong southerly winds and heavy rain for long periods. There seemed to be plenty of Goldcrests about today, but otherwise the best birds I could manage were on the shore, with plenty of waders as the high tide approached including over 200 Grey plover. From the mere hide there was a Greenshank and Spotted redshank.

Spotted redshank, Black-tailed godwit and Greenshank.

Managed realignment on the Wash

I spent most of today looking at two newly created RSPB reserves on the Lincolnshire side of the Wash. Frampton Marshes is a fresh water marsh which has been created from what was formerly farmland, whilst at Freiston Shore, the sea wall has been breached to allow for managed realignment of the coast, which is creating new saltmarsh. The latter is a habitat which is under great pressure, being squeezed between rising sea levels and sea walls which don't allow it to retreat inland.  Breaching sea walls and flooding farmland at suitable places such as Freiston Shore and Hesketh Out Marsh on the Ribble, not only helps take the pressure off other more vulnerable parts of the coast, but also allows the RSPB to create new saltmarsh reserves to the benefit of wildlife.

It's also a unique opportunity to study how quickly the farmland reverts to saltmarsh once the sea wall is breached, and this is exactly the type of research I was involved with until quite recently at Edge Hill university. My part in the research was to compare the invertebrate communities at Hesketh Out Marsh, with those at the much more established Crossens Marsh, by pitfall trapping, identifying and comparing invertebrates at both sites. An example of the type of results from my research is that although spiders were common at both sites, wolf spiders such as Pardosa purbeckensis were much more numerous at Hesketh Out Marsh, whilst at Crossens Marsh there was a higher diversity of species, with the linyphiidae (money spiders) particularly well represented. The reason for this may be as simple as the vegetation has not developed and is not as dense at Hesketh, which is to the benefit of the running hunters such as Pardosa sp.

There are large expanses of existing saltmarsh both at Frampton and Freiston Shore, in fact they're both part of the largest saltmarsh in the UK. There were about 1000 Dark-bellied Brent geese at both sites, with a single Pale-bellied bird at Frampton.

Other birds today included:

Marsh harrier 2 (juveniles at Frampton and Freiston Shore)
Little egret about 20 at both sites
Wigeon 2000 Frampton
Black-tailed godwit 500 Frampton
Avocet 14 Frampton


Brent geese over Freiston Shore (this is not the managed realignment area).

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Donna Nook, Lincolnshire

Isabelline shrike 1
Dark-bellied Brent geese 100
Blackcap 1 male

Year 243 (Isabelline shrike). My 4th Isabelline shrike.

On 14th October 1990 we were staying with friends in Grimsby and I was given a "day off". I headed to Donna Nook just because it looked interesting on the map, and by pure fluke bumped into a group of birders who had just found an Isabelline shrike, which at the time was my first. It was pretty much deja vu today, I visited Donna Nook with my son, not really intent on birding (except that of course I always am birding even when it looks like I'm not), only to find on arriving that an Isabelline shrike had just been found! I really must go to Donna Nook more often.......

Boultham Mere, Lincoln

Blue-winged teal 3
Bittern 1

My second visit to see these birds, and today they were much closer, briefly swimming right in front of the hide. They're all males apparently, but as you can see from the photo, they're showing no sign of coming out of eclipse.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire

Richard's pipit 1
Great grey shrike 1
Snow bunting 2
Ring ouzel 1 female
Pied flycatcher 1
Hen harrier 1 ringtail
Merlin 2
Wheatear 1 1st winter
Goldcrest 10
Dark-bellied Brent geese 50
Grey plover 20
Bar-tailed godwit 10

Year 242 (Richard's pipit, Great grey shrike)
A decent list for my first ever visit to Gibraltar Point, but for long periods it was quite tough going. The Richard's pipit and Great grey shrike were both flyovers, the pipit giving a characteristic call to clinch the id.

Snow bunting.


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Eccleston mere

Wigeon 1 female
Pochard 2 (male & female)
Gadwall 4 (2 males, 2 females)
Little grebe 2 (juvs)
Chiffchaff 1 in hedge by the stream
Lesser redpoll 8
Siskin 1
Willow tit 1
Goldcrest 4
Coal tit 2
Pink-footed goose 30 distantly over Catchdale moss, flying west.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Eccleston Mere

Gadwall 5 (2 males, 3 females)
Pochard 2 (male & female)
Willow Tit 1
Jackdaw 300 roosting on the island
Kingfisher 1

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Saturday, 12 October 2013

A migration day at Flamborough Head

South Landing
Dusky warbler 1
Yellow-browed warbler 1
Crossbill 28
Woodcock 1
Chiffchaff 10
Redwing hundreds
Fieldfare 100
Common "Mealy" Redpoll 1

Hedge near Millennium wood
Rustic bunting 1
Ring ouzel 1

Seawatching from the fog station
Pomarine skua 1
Great Skua 5
Velvet scoter 1 male
Common scoter 200
Scaup 2 males
Gannet 800
Little gull 20
Red-throated diver 20
Eider 3
Fulmar 2

UK Life 392 (Dusky warbler)
Year 240 (Dusky warbler, Rustic bunting, Yellow-browed warbler, Pomarine skua)

Ironically I didn't see most of what I expected, but did see plenty I didn't expect! The weather was perfect, misty, dull, drizzle and moderate north easterly breeze. South Landing was crawling with birds, hundreds of Redwings, Fieldfares, Blackbirds, crests, tits, finches, plenty of Chiffchaffs, a flock of Crossbills and a Woodcock. Best of all, a Yellow-browed warbler and my first Dusky warbler. The latter was difficult to see, but I did manage a few fleeting glimpses, and it had a very distinct call.

The Rustic bunting was only my second ever.

Seawatching was a disappointment. Yesterday there had been hundreds of Sooty shearwaters and lots of "Blue" Fulmars, both birds I really wanted to see, as well as Long-tailed skuas, ten times as many Great skuas and Grey phalaropes.

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